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Learning Assistants – Faculty

The LA program at Vanderbilt began as a collaboration between faculty members in Biological Sciences and the Department of Teaching & Learning. In Fall 2021, support from the College of Arts and Science allowed expansion to courses in multiple science disciplines. If you’re interested in learning more about using LAs in your course in future semesters, contact a member of the leadership team.

  • Cynthia Brame at cynthia.brame@vanderbilt.edu
  • Thomas Clements at thomas.clements@vanderbilt.edu
  • Kathy Friedman at katherine.friedman@vanderbilt.edu
  • Heather Johnson at heather.j.johnson@vanderbilt.edu
  • Jessica Watkins at jessica.watkins@vanderbilt.edu

What is the selection process like, and how are faculty involved?

Faculty who are going to use LAs in their course work with their chair to determine the number of LAs they’ll use. They are encouraged to advertise the LA opportunity with their former students, although we also advertise through other email lists (e.g., department and student group lists).

Students apply using a Google form. They can indicate up to three courses in which they would be willing to act as an LA, and they are asked when they took the course, who their instructor was, and what grade they earned. They write a paragraph or upload a video explaining why they want to be an LA. In addition, they are told that one of the goals of the LA program is to contribute to the equity and inclusiveness of the Vanderbilt undergraduate learning experience and asked to describe how they will contribute to those efforts.

After the application deadline, faculty are emailed a list of the students who have applied to be an LA in their course and are invited to indicate if there are any students who would not be good candidates. For example, an instructor may think it is important that the student took a particular course at Vanderbilt to be an LA in that course.

The applications are reviewed to determine who should be interviewed. Readers look for applicants who show an awareness of and interest in others’ learning, not just their own experience. They also look for thoughtful, specific responses about how the student thinks about inclusiveness and equity in a classroom setting. Typically, the goal is to interview about 150% of the number of LAs needed.

Interviews are 15 minutes each, and involve two faculty members (often, one member of the leadership team and one course instructor). Interviewers use a standard set of questions and a rubric to help ensure that they gain the type of information they need from each applicant.

Interviewers convene to identify the applicants who will be invited to serve as LAs.

Faculty are invited to participate in both reading applications and interviewing. It is time-consuming but fun and valuable.

 

What do I need to keep in mind if I want to use LAs?

LAs can provide significant benefits in your course, but they do require a time commitment from you. First, you need to plan to meet with the LAs each week for 1-1.5 hours to talk through the course activities they’ll be facilitating. Second, you’ll need activities each week for them to facilitate! VU faculty who have used LAs have found worksheets or linked TopHat questions to be particularly valuable.

How are faculty supported?

Each semester, there is a learning community for faculty who are currently using LAs or plan to do so in the future. It’s a helpful way to get input on your challenges, to share your successes, and to glean ideas from others. If you’re interested in knowing more, email Cynthia.brame@vanderbilt.edu.

What are the limitations?

LAs are paid $1500 per semester. Currently, part of that sum is provided by the College of Arts & Science, and part is provided by each department.